By W.F. Cude, San Antonio
IT IS THE DUTY OF THE CATTLE DRIVERS to do their bit in giving to the people of the great state of Texas some important facts that happened more than two score and ten years ago.
In the year 1861 war broke out between the States and it lasted four years, and during all this time there was no market, so the country was beginning to be overrun with cattle so much that thousands died.
Some people went out with a wagon and an ax and killed and skinned them for their hides, which sold for one dollar apiece, though there was not much killing of animals for the hides except where the animal was down on the lift or in a bog hole. This was in 1869 and 1870.
Up until 1872 there was not over 150 miles of railroad in the state; that was from Galveston to Houston, and a short line from Houston to Brazoria, twenty-five miles in length, and one road from Harrisburg to Alleyton, three miles east of Columbus.
So the cattle driving to Kansas was the only hope at that time, and it proved to be a great help before the railroads got around. Trail driving to Kansas lasted from 1866 to 1886, and it was estimated that fully eight million head of cattle and horses were driven and sold during the twenty years above mentioned to Kansas, the drivers paying for the cattle on an average of ten dollars per head, although most of the horses came back to Texas and were used the next year.
There were all sizes of herds, from 500 to 2,500 cattle in a drove, usually seven or eight men to the small herds and twelve to fifteen men with the large herds.
My first trip to Kansas was in the year 1868. I went with men by the name of Forehand and C. Cockrell. The cattle were steers, 600 in number, and were gathered near Cistern Post Office, in Bastrop County. There were eight hands besides the owners and the cook.
After we passed Dallas lightning struck the boys in camp, killing one, and three others were so badly burned that one of them quit, so we only had six all the way to Kansas.
We were told by the citizens of Dallas that we would reach the Chisholm Trail a few miles north of Dallas, and we followed it through Fort Worth, a small town, then through the Chickasaw Nation on to Wichita, Kansas, and thence to Solomon City on the Kansas Pacific Railroad, nine miles west of Abilene.
There were but few settlements on the way after we passed Dallas, and when we reached the settlements in Kansas we were all joyful again. We passed through many prairie dog towns and over rattlesnake dens, and lost only one horse from rattlesnake bite.
Many kinds of wild animals were to be seen along the way, such as antelope, elk and buffalo, and we killed one buffalo calf and brought it into camp, though I did not like the meat as well as that of our cattle.
The country was one vast stretch of rich land, no timber except on creeks or rivers, and when we came in sight of timber we knew there would be water. In some instances we had to haul our wood to cook with, but generally we would have to gather buffalo chips (dry dung) for that purpose.
In the fall of 1869 I drove a herd of cattle to Shreveport, Louisiana. We made some money, but the buffalo flies were so bad we never went any more to Shreveport.
Sometimes we would get farms to put the cattle in at night and the farms were stocked with cockleburrs and the cattle’s tails would get full of burrs, and when the buffalo flies would get after them they would lose their tails fighting flies.
Their tails would become entangled in small pine trees and there they would stand and pull and bellow until they got loose. You could hear them bawl a mile. Some of the cattle would run off and lay down, crazed with misery, and it was hard to drive them back to the herd.
We sold the cattle in Shreveport and down Red River some 15 miles distant. This herd was gathered in Gonzales County near where Waelder is now.
In the fall of 1870 I gathered another herd near the town of Waelder, Gonzales County, and went to New Orleans.
On this trip we had many rivers and bayous to swim. Ferrymen wanted five to ten dollars for their services. The largest stream was Burwick’s Bay at Brazier City, 900 yards wide straight across. Here a man led an ox to the edge of the stream and drove him into swimming water, when two men in canoes, one on each side, pointed the herd across.
I shipped a carload from Brazier City to New Orleans and drove the rest, selling to plantations until I reached the Mississippi River. There I sold the balance, getting a much better price than I received for those I shipped to New Orleans, many of the farmers giving me checks on banks and merchants in New Orleans, very few paying the money down.
Another herd of cattle went along at the same time, owned by Col. Fred Malone of Beeville, Texas, and Capt. Gibney of New Orleans, and as the latter knew the city well, I got him to assist me in locating the banks and merchants.
One of the merchants had moved, however, so we went to the city register to find his location. When I reached this place I found it to be a house made of beeswax and tallow, and I began to think that fellow could not pay a check for $500, but it was all paid.
I also drove another herd that same year to Natchez, Mississippi, and sold to two men by the name of John McKen and James Gainer, who lived on Black River, thirty miles from Natchez. We made some money on this herd of cattle.
Some of the hands came back with the horses and wagons, myself, Charles Edwards and Henry Crozier taking a steamboat on Black River, thence down to Red River and on down to the Mississippi River to New Orleans. This boat took on board sugar and molasses all along the way.
It was a very pleasant trip and somewhat amusing to see the hands load on the barrels of sugar and molasses. They loaded that boat until the deck was right down to the water’s edge. At New Orleans we took a train to Brazier City, there we took a ship to Galveston and from there came by train to our home in Gonzales County.
In the year of 1871 I saddled up “Old Ball,” my favorite horse, and rode away to Kansas, this time for N.W. Cude, whose herd was gathered in Gonzales, Caldwell and Bastrop Counties. When we reached North Texas I found the Old Chisholm Trail had been abandoned and went far to the west to cross Red River.
One morning about eleven o’clock I rode on ahead of the herd to some timber, where “Old Ball” stopped very suddenly, and then I saw an Indian standing near the road. The Indian had a gun, and I suppose he was out on a hunt, but I gave my horse more slack on the bridle and passed on, and neither of us spoke.
A few days later two Indians came up to the herd and wanted beef, but I told them that I had bought these cattle and had none to give away. They talked some English and asked to see my gun. I gave it to one of them and they looked it all over and soon rode away as fast as their horses could carry them.
The cattle market was very low that year, so I failed to sell out all, wintering the balance in Nebraska, but they turned out bad. In crossing the Missouri River, it being frozen over, the cattle milled out on the ice and broke through, and we lost sixteen. The expense of wintering was so heavy we came out behind that year.
The first cattle I ever drove to a market was in 1867, to Houston, Texas, for a man by the name of Tumelson, from Gonzales County, and the last herd was in 1872, for a man by the name of O.J. Baker. R.D. Cude and myself bought the cattle from a Mr. Wimberly, in Hays County. We drove to Kansas and stopped our herd about fifteen miles west of Ellsworth, near the Kansas Pacific Railroad.
Everything went well except when we got into Kansas, Bluff Creek being the line. We lay over a day to rest and clean up. Next morning just about sunup, I heard a gunshot down the creek and in a few minutes we saw two Indians running two mules as fast as they could go.
They had shot a white man with a gun and arrows. He came dragging up to our camp with one arrow still sticking in him, and one of the boys pulled it out and we carried him to a tent not far away.
The trail drivers had many narrow escapes and were exposed to many storms, cyclones, hail and all kinds of weather, stampedes of cattle, running over ditches and bluffs at night. Some few never came back, but were buried along the lonely trail among the wild roses, wrapped only in their bed blankets; no human being living near, just the coyote roaming there.